Book: Spirituality And Gender by John NashA major crisis in the world today concerns women and spirituality. Women everywhere are experiencing a rapid expansion in Consciousness that has opened up new avenues to self-expression and fulfillment. From the limited fields of the home, teaching, and nursing, women now enjoy opportunities in virtually every field of endeavor: the professions, politics, the military, business, manufacturing and construction industries, entertainment, sports, and many other areas. Although they have met some resistance, the response from male colleagues to women's entry into these fields has been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, men are readily sharing in women's consciousness-raising. Government and industry leaders stress the contribution that this previously untapped human resource can make to growth and prosperity. Today's women can do anything men can do, outside the realms of physical sex and religion.
Women have long been welcome in organized religion in service roles. Nuns could teach in schools and nurse the sick, female parishioners could arrange flowers on the altar, women could teach children and other women in Sunday school and could serve as volunteers in the great many jobs needed to keep a church operating. Now women are knocking on the seminary doors and demanding entry to the ministry. Some Christian denominations have admitted women to the ministry on an equal footing to men--in a few cases even to senior ranks such as bishop. Reform Judaism welcomes women to the rabbinate, and women have made some inroads into the priesthood of Hindu and Buddhist temples. However, other Christian denominations and Islam adamantly refuse even to discuss the issue of female ordination. After all, as the fundamentalists are quick to point out, it was through women that sin came into the world. Furthermore, the Savior/Prophet was male, so that's that.
For much longer, women have played a distinct spiritual role, although this role has received scant support from male-oriented society. The goddess culture of ancient times was destroyed by patriarchal invaders, notably the Hellenic Greeks. Priestesses and vestal virgins continued to play a significant role in religious life during the Greek and Roman periods, although large numbers are reported to have been raped or murdered. Others went to war, often fighting to the death or taking their own lives before they could be captured.
In the later Christian era, a few women, like Hildegard of Bingen and Theresa of Avilla were revered as mystics, but many more, including Joan of Arc, were burned at the stake. Historians attribute much of the appeal of Medieval Witchcraft to women's unfulfilled saccerdotal ambitions. Even today, Wicca attracts women who might in other circumstances be attracted to the priesthood available to their male counterparts.
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